Feb 212012

legumes nutritionLegumes, (pronounced leg-yooms), are a great way to add nutrition in your diet.  February is the time for comfort food, and legumes are a satisfying and inexpensive way to add nutrition and fiber to your diet.  They are also high in protein, cholesterol free, and make excellent meat substitutes.

Legumes are edible seeds that come in two types: immature, which we eat straight from the garden when we eat items such as green beans and peas, and mature, such as beans and lentils, that are cooked and eaten in soups and stews. These nutritious seed pods come in a wide variety of colors, shapes, and sizes, and are available as fresh, dried, canned or frozen products.

Lentils, split peas, pintos, black beans, white beans, navy beans, garbanzo beans, black-eyed peas, and kidney beans are all common legumes that can be easily found in any grocery store. More exotic varieties, such as adzuki beans, calypso beans, and cranberry beans, are available in most health food stores. Fresh legumes, such as lima beans, fava beans, peas, and soy beans (edamame), are also good sources of fiber.

Legumes nutritionWhat is the Nutritional Value in Legumes?

Beans, peas, and lentils are loaded with nutritional value, naturally low in fat, and high in dietary fiber. While beans and lentils contain carbohydrates, they also are high in folate, phosphorus, potassium, iron, zinc, calcium, and selenium. Legumes have many of the B vitamins and are rich in antioxidants –- these can prevent cell damage.

Dark red kidney beans are rated number one on antioxidant lists, surpassing blueberries.

Many kinds of beans, including soybeans, are rich in saponins–- an anti-inflammatory compound which helps your immune system protect you against cancer while it lowers your cholesterol.

One cup of cooked beans, (about 3 T dry), provides over 50% of your daily fiber need, (about 13 grams), 30% of protein, almost 70% of folic acid (a B vitamin), and over 25% of iron, making this a nutritional superstar.

Tips on using legumes:

  • Consider adding or substituting legumes in spaghetti sauce, chili, or rice dishes.  I love garbanzo beans in tomato sauce.
  • Beans are a great addition to pasta salads in the summer.
  • Always purchase canned legumes that have had no salt added if possible, and always rinse canned legumes before using them.
  • A 15-ounce can of beans equals 1.5 cups of cooked beans. One pound of dried beans, usually purchased in a bag, equals 2 cups of uncooked beans or 6 cups of cooked beans.
  • Add salt or acidic ingredients, such as vinegar, tomatoes or juice, near the end of the cooking time, when the beans are just tender. If these ingredients are added too early, they can make the beans tough and slow the cooking process.
  • To freeze cooked beans for later use, immerse them in cold water until cool, then drain well and freeze.
  • Bean gravy—Use the healthy leftover broth simmered with some onions and spices, thicken with flour, and you will have a super healthy gravy—no fat!

 I can’t think of a better way to tour the world, without having to leave your kitchen, than creating exotic dishes using legumes.  Lentils work wonderfully in Indian dishes, garbanzo beans in tasty Mediterranean hummus dips, and black beans in bold southwestern style cooking.

How to cook legumes:

Tuscan Bean Soup legumesDried beans and legumes, with the exceptions of black-eyed peas and lentils, require soaking in room-temperature water, a step that rehydrates them for more even cooking. Before soaking, pick through the beans, discarding any discolored or shriveled ones or any foreign matter.

Be sure to try this week’s recipe for a simple, soothing, and satisfying Tuscan Bean Soup.

Check out this video on how-to-cook legumes for more tips.

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